Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day, chances are very good that your business will have to deal with a social media crisis. With the continued and increasing popularity of social media as a communications channel for brands, there are more opportunities for both the good and the bad. To weather the storm when bad things do happen, consider these tips for handling a social media crisis:

1. Evaluate. There’s a big difference between a crisis and a problem. Before taking any actions, determine whether the events taking place are a minor problem or a major issue. This can avoid wasting time and resources for something that requires a simple solution. For example, a minor customer complaint can be dealt with through a direct and personalized response. However, an accidentally offensive post or a negative situation involving your company that arises outside of social media should necessitate elevating the issue to the status of crisis.

2. Have a plan. Don’t wait until a disaster strikes to plan how you will respond to it. Take the time now to prepare a social media crisis plan, if you don’t have one already. To ensure the thoroughness of your crisis plan, brainstorm with other members of your team to flesh out a variety of potential crisis scenarios that could impact your business. Be sure to account for both online and offline threats, then map out a plan for how each should be responded to both internally and externally and who is responsible for executing each part of that plan. Also create a more general crisis plan for any issues that may arise that don’t fit into the scenarios you identify so you are prepared for the unknown as much as the known.

3. Respond quickly. Social media moves in real-time, which can be both beneficial and detrimental. In a crisis, that speed can work against your business if you aren’t prepared to respond quickly. According to Edelman, while 28 percent of crises spread internationally within one hour, it takes an average of 21 hours for companies to issue meaningful external responses. The first step in rapid response is realizing that it will often require a tiered approach. First, aim to simply acknowledge the issue and commit to providing more details as soon as you have them. This can help buy your organization time to gather more information about the situation in order to craft more in-depth statements.

4. Don’t argue or hide comments. When a sea of negativity is staring you in the face, it can be tempting to delete negative posts. Resist that temptation because attempting to silence those voices will simply bring more frustration and fury your way. In addition, while it’s great to respond to comments or questions in a helpful and positive manner, don’t let the interaction dissolve into an argument. Avoid taking comments personally or falling into the trap of going back and forth with trolls. Instead, find a way to take the conversation off social by offering an email address, phone number or other offline avenue for persistent individuals to contact.

5. Educate employees. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to find employees of any given organization. Keep this in mind as you prepare for or work through a crisis. While you may have a point person or multiple people designated to respond to inquiries and provide official responses, there is nothing stopping anyone from reaching out to your employees. Ensure that they know what to do and who to route individuals to when this happens. Also, ensure that transparency prevails in your employee communications – let them know what’s going on, what the planned resolution will be and when it should be resolved. You want employees to feel confident in the resolution of any crisis and that they aren’t kept in the dark during it.

6. Document lessons learned. Once the storm clouds have passed and the crisis is over, take time to hold a debriefing session with the key players involved. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. What would you do differently next time? Were there people that weren’t involved that should have been, or vice versa? Would you use the same or different communication channels the next time around? Be sure to hold this session soon after the crisis has passed so the lessons learned are still fresh on everyone’s minds.

Happy Marketing!